Suit should go forward

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 13, 2003

A federal judge should deny the City of Suffolk’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a Suffolk firefighter who claims his constitutional rights were trampled.

Lt. J.R. Lilienthal charges in his suit that the city and Fire Chief Mark Outlaw violated his constitutional rights to free speech, free association and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances.

Lilienthal charges that in a Sept. 24, 2002 memo, Outlaw ordered him to stop discussing fire department business and management issues with city administrators, City Council members and city department heads. In addition, his suit contends that the memo indicated that any outgoing communication must be reviewed by Outlaw’s office and threatened disciplinary action if Lilienthal did not adhere to the policy.

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It is essential for Lilienthal, in his role as president of the Local 2801 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, the union of the city’s professional fire and rescue workers, to be able to speak up for the people whose interests he represents.

What Outlaw and the City are trying to do is a textbook case for why the founding fathers felt it necessary to add the First Amendment to the Constitution. The city is on the wrong side in this one, defending a position that isn’t worthy of defense and the suit should go to trial.